Sometimes adults forget little ears are present and vent to another person about the child in our company. Perhaps we are trying to get some of these negative feelings off our chest. However, when those words leave our mouth and are off our chest, they land directly in the hearts of our children! Words hurt, or they can help our children feel good about who they are. If little ears can soak in words of kindness, little hearts can soak up love.
What we say to a child matters, and so too do the things we say about them in their hearing. Our words can either nourish our children, or knock them down. The descriptors we use paint a picture for the child of who they are, regardless of whether these words are kind, fair, or true. They take the words to heart, and echo them back in their self-talk.
We’re fortunate as adults that we can screen the comments of others and decide if we bother taking any of it on board. We have the beautiful power of perspective and can realise the not-truth of what is said. But our children do not, their screening process hasn’t developed yet.
If we say it, they believe it. If they hear it, they store it.
Our words hold much more power than we intend for them to in the heat of a single exasperated moment. Our children are not as mature as us, but they are as human as us. That needs remembering. If, as adults, we wouldn’t like to stand in the presence of a loved one and have them speak ill of us, we have to ask why we’d consider doing this to our children. If we wouldn’t tell the people around us that our friend or partner at our side was “doing our head in”, or “driving us crazy”, then we also shouldn’t do this to our children. They have the same very human feelings that we do, and if we would feel hurt or confused by such a scenario, they certainly will too.
We carry a responsibility on our shoulders, and that is that we don’t weigh down little shoulders with criticism and name calling. Our children can’t control what we say about them but we can. We can choose to cloak those same little shoulders in kindness, ensuring they hear us saying warm things to them and about them. This isn’t only those surface things— that they are “good” or “cute”, but genuine aspects of their character, and how they light up our world. Perhaps we share with others how our child’s sense of humour brightens our days, or how their gentleness with younger ones warms our hearts. Maybe we tell that we enjoy their company or appreciate how much effort they put in when something is hard. These messages are meaningful for our children, and they build these into themselves. Our words go beyond being nice, and are actually something nourishing, something that fuels their growth and sense of self. It would be easy to make the mistake of thinking our children are too young to grasp what we are saying, that our words go over their head. But our message isn’t our words alone. Even our very youngest children have a sense of whether our words about them are being served up with a big helping of love. Let’s make that our goal, and our role!